Drink of the Week: The Casino

Image ALT text goes here.As start to I write this, I’ve just finished watching the third presidential debate and I’m contemplating the power of the Etch-a-Sketch. Just as Mitt Romney somehow made a significant slice of the electorate forget everything that happened prior to debate #1, now left-leaners like your humble tippler are hoping debates #2 and #3 will make everyone forget that first one.

And what does this have to do with today’s Drink of the Week? Well, let’s just say that after what I’ve been through the last few weeks, it’s time to move on — from the bourbon drinks I’ve been promoting here week after week and lots of other things besides. Also, this week, I’ve personally paid for every single ingredient. For this week, at least, we’re freebie free.

Today’s drink features a base spirit so classic it had all but disappeared until a few years back, and it’s one I’ve been dying to try for ages: Old Tom gin. It’s London dry gin’s much sweeter cousin which apparently includes a bit of simple syrup in the mix. Original Old Tom gins were apparently mostly gins that had sugar added to them to cover up some nasty flavors. Today’s very nice version — which really isn’t bad on its own — is from Hayman’s Distillers.

I was also rather taken with the name of today’s cocktail. I’ve been feeling like it’s time for a long-delayed return trip to my one-time near-second home of Las Vegas. If things go badly at the 21 and craps tables for me, and well they might, this drink could certainly help remove some of the sting.

The Casino

2 ounces Old Tom gin
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters
1 lemon twist (garnisth)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with lots of ice and stir vigorously. (You can shake if you like, and you know I usually like to shake, but here I really don’t find it necessary.) Pour into a chilled cocktail/martini glass, add lemon twist, and drink a toast to the right kind of big changes and better luck.

***
First of all, since I haven’t seen it in too many other places, I pretty much followed the lead of a 2008 blog post on Old Tom gin by England’s Jay Hepburn, but it should be noted there are other versions of this drink, in fact it can be tinkered with quite a bit.

For example, I know from my own experiments that this drink can also work very nicely with regular gin (I was using Beefeater), though I’m not sure if you still want to use the bitters. On the other hand, there is a super dry version of this drink that uses only dashes of the lemon juice and maraschino but throws in a cherry as the garnish. I’m sure that could work too and I might try it that way sometime.

On the other hand, the first time I made this, I forgot to use bitters with both the Old Tom and my London dry gin version and found it extremely drinkable. The casino seems to be a drink that can take an awful lot of abuse and not really be harmed. More proof that the house always wins.

  

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Spotlight on Booze: Gin

It’s lost some commercial ground to vodka over the decades, but the revival of interest in classic cocktails has given gin a boost lately. In any case, this venerable liquor remains the standard clear alcohol among serious cocktail aficionados, who strongly prefer its more complex flavor and swear it’s the only true main ingredient in a martini.

Gin is distilled from grain, usually wheat or rye, and starts out as a fairly plain spirit probably not so different from vodka. After that, “distilled gins” are then distilled a second time with various flavorings. That slightly perfume-like aroma you’ve noticed comes primarily from juniper berries. That’s only for starters, as gin manufacturers use a pretty vast assortment of herbs and other botanicals ranging from licorice root to grapefruit peels. Some ultra-cheap brands are “compound gins.” These gins are not redistilled, but simply have tiny infusions added — they’re basically gin-flavored alcohol.

Most modern gins are “dry” and manufactured in England; these gins legally may not contain any added sugar and that aids in the liquor’s superb mixability. As far as we can tell, however, there isn’t much predictable difference between “London dry, “extra dry,” and other similar designations. “Plymouth” gins technically only have to come from the coastal town, but they tend to have a somewhat more complex, pungent, and slightly sweeter flavor profile. Largely produced in Holland and Belgium, genever is a less strong gin variant popular in central Europe. With plenty of added sugar, you can still find very sweet “old Tom” gin if you look hard. Speaking of sweet, you’ve likely had a slurp or two or of “sloe gin,” actually a liqueur made with gin or cheaper neutral spirits mixed with sloe berries. Most brands of gin are between 84 and 92 proof (42-46 percent alcohol), but a number of less upscale mass market brands are available at 80 proof or even less.

Like all types of booze, gin is available in a number of price levels, but there’s not really any such thing as a super premium gin. While you can easily spend $150.00 or much more on a bottle of small batch bourbon or single malt Scotch, if you find a bottle of regular size bottle of gin selling for more than $50.00, you’re probably paying mostly for ultra-fancy packaging. Some of the best and/or most popular premium gins include Tanqueray Ten, Plymouth (a brand as well as style of gin), and Bombay Sapphire. Just as good or better, in our opinion, are the mid-priced premiums, available in some states at discounters like Costco, Bev-Mo and Trader Joe’s. These include Tanqueray, Bombay Dry Gin (less heavy on the perfumey juniper berries than Sapphire), and Hendricks, an increasingly popular Scottish gin we like quite a bit. A bit cheaper, still quite good, and very rich in “Mad Men”-style classic street cred, is Beefeater.

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